Are politicians the right people to run our police?
On 15th November the way our police force is run will change forever. We will be choosing an individuals for the post of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) for our local force. The PCC will control the police budget and have the power to hire and fire the Chief Constable and will work with others involved in criminal justice.
Separation of power
In the UK we have long had a clear separation between the government on the one hand and the courts and the police on the other. This separation is important in maintaining a healthy democracy. We do not have show trials where corrupt politicians control the courts and police.
Indeed Martin Bell has said ‘I cannot think of a role less suited to a party politician than that of a PCC’.
For years Lincolnshire’s police have been overseen by an Independent Police Authority. The Police Authority is made up of elected Councillors from a wide range of political parties together with 8 independent people. The 8 independent people are appointed for the knowledge, skill and experience they bring to the oversight of Lincolnshire’s police.
It was not possible for any individual, private organisation or any political party to exercise improper influence over the police.
Would you trust a politician anyway
In recent years public trust and confidence in our political leaders and our politicians generally has declined not least due to the expenses scandal but also because of the allegations of ‘cash for access’. There have been examples of politicians meddling in cases such as Boris Johnson alleged involvement when an MP was arrested. The Levinson Inquiry heard how the police bucked under political pressure.
This is an unhappy background against which to suggest that politicians are the right people to run our police. Even worse the new oath that any Commissioner will have to give says:
I will not seek to influence or prevent any lawful and reasonable investigation or arrest……
The word reasonable is open to interpretation. I have the scars of a group of politicians thinking the police investigation into a corrupt County Council Leader was unreasonable; the judge and the jury did not and he was sentenced to 18 months.
They got is in this mess – a dysfunctional criminal justice system
Over the past few decades a criminal justice system has been overseen by politicians, from both major parties, in Westminster. Between them they have turned a blind eye to repeat low-level petty crime and anti-social behaviour, attracting minimal consequences; even worse, allowing a system to develop which attracts derision from offenders.
First you may be reprimanded (several times), given final warnings and then formally depending upon age cautioned and then eventually end up in court. Court sanctions can be modest and even then often not complied with. For example:
- Around 25% of community service orders were not completed properly.
- £50 million worth of fines were written off with over £600 million outstanding.
- Over 50% of tagged offenders breach their curfew but provided it is for less than 12 hours are unlikely to face any great consequences.
- Around 50% of penalty notice fines for minor shoplifting etc are ignored
- Over 50% of those convicted of burglary do not get a custodial sentence
- In spite of promises to the contrary there are no effective minimum sentences for carry a knife with 63% suffering no worse than a suspended sentence
The learned behaviour for this small group of individuals is one of petty crime pays, because the risk of real sanctions is frankly negligible. There are no serious consequences to them – but there are to us; continuing petty crime and anti-social behaviour.
This can be borne out by the statistics. Over the past 10 years there has been a 3 fold increase in people appearing in court with 15 convictions or more.
The sanctions available to the police and others who work hard in the criminal justice system are just not there. Outrageously prison sentencing policy is driven by the number of places available, not protecting us.
The management of prisons is not much better. Prisoners due for deportation have been routinely released. If drugs are freely available in prison it is obvious that drug rehabilitation programmes will be less successful. In some of our prisons random drug tests have had as high as a 30% failure rate; it is hardly surprising that only around 50% of the drug rehabilitation programmes are successful.
Worse, if it could be worse, our political leaders have failed to tackle and resource properly many of the ways to stop people getting into the criminal justice system in the first place:-
- The vulnerable people in our communities such as those with Mental Health problems who need NHS and Social Care support, not the criminal justice system.
- The need to turn young offenders away from crime, early in their careers.
- The scourge of drugs and alcoholism which drives high levels of repeat offending.
So what have the major political parties given us over the past 30 years or so? A failure to stop people getting into petty crime and no real sanctions against them when they do. It’s a win-win for offenders but not for us.
Put simply the politicians got us into this mess – why should we trust them to get us out of it?